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Typically, the three stages of a complete
are as follows:
1. Reconnaissance: examination of published
geological maps and reports, study of air
photographs, gathering of local experience,
field visits to examine, if possible, the
performance of existing slopes in similar
geological conditions, and geophysics
studies if outcrops are limited.

Planning an investigation program

2. Route selection/preliminary pit slope
design: if the project involves the
evaluation of alternative routes, limited
investigations could be carried out of
each route comprising outcrop mapping,
geophysics to find overburden thickness
and index tests of rock properties. For
an open pit mine, there will usually be
considerable geological information on
the property generated during the
exploration program

Planning an investigation program

3. Detailed investigations: final design
would usually require detailed mapping
of outcrops and existing cuts to study
structural geology, test pits to obtain
information on overburden thickness and
properties, and diamond drilling to
investigate rock conditions at depth.
Components of the drilling could include
core orientation to obtain structural
geology information, and installation of
piezometers to measure ground water
levels, and possibly measure

Planning an investigation program

Because of the wide variety of both site
conditions and slope designs, it is not
considered appropriate to draw up any
rules on the types and quantity of
investigation programs. That is, every
investigation is unique. The only general
rule that applies to investigation for rock
slope design is that information is required
on geology, rock strength and ground

Planning an investigation program

Part of any site reconnaissance is the
collection of all relevant existing data on
the site, ranging from published data
from both government and private
sources to observations of the
performance of existing natural slopes
and cut faces. These sources will provide
such information as rock types, depth of
weathering, likely slope failure modes
and the frequency and size of rock

Site reconnaissance
An important first step in the reconnaissance
stage of a project is to define zones, in each
of which the geological properties are uniform
with regards to the requirements of the project
(ISRM, 1981a). Typical boundaries between
zones include rock type contacts, faults or
major folds. The zoning of the rock mass
should provide information on the location,
orientation and type of boundary between
zones, as well as some information on the
engineering properties of the rock mass in

Site reconnaissance
The study of stereographic pairs of vertical
aerial photographs or oblique terrestrial
photographs provides much useful information
on the largerscale geological conditions at a
site (Peterson et al., 1982). Often these large
features will be difficult to identify in surface
mapping because they are obscured by
vegetation, rock falls or more closely spaced
discontinuities. Photographs most commonly
used in geotechnical engineering are black and
white, vertical photographs taken at heights of
between 500 and 3000 m with scales ranging
from 1:10,000 to 1:30,000

Aerial and terrestrial photography

Geophysical methods are often used in the
reconnaissance or preliminary stages of a site
investigation program to provide such
information as the depth of weathering, the
bedrock profile, contacts between rock types of
significantly different density, the location of
major faults, and the degree of fracturing of
the rock (Griffiths and King, 1988).
Geophysical surveys provide a continuous
profile of subsurface conditions and this
information can be used as a fill-in between
drill holes. For rock slope engineering purposes
the most common geophysical investigation
method is seismic refraction

Geological mapping of surface outcrops or
existing cuts, in similar geological
formations to that in which the excavation
will be made, usually furnishes the
fundamental information on site conditions
required for slope design. While mapping is
a vital part of the investigation program, it
is also an inexact process because a certain
amount of judgment is usually required to
extrapolate the small amount of
information available from surface outcrops
to the overall cut slope(McClay, 1987)

Geologic mapping
 Rock type
 Discontinuity type
 Discontinuity orientation
 Spacing
 Persistence
 Roughness
 Wall strength
 Weathering
 Aperture
 Infilling/width
 Seepage
 Number of sets
 Block size/shape

Definition of geological terms

Definition of geological terms
The rock type is defined by the origin of the
rock (i.e. sedimentary, metamorphic or
igneous), the mineralogy, the color and
grain size (Deere and Miller, 1966).
The importance of defining the rock type is
that there is wide experience in the
performance of different rock types (e.g.
Granite is usually stronger and more
massive than shale), and this information
provides a useful guideline on the likely
behavior of the rock.

Rock type
 Fault
 Bedding
 Foliation
 Joint
 Cleavage
 Schistosity

Types of discontinuity
Orientation of discontinuities
Discontinuity spacing can be mapped in
rock faces and in drill core, with the true
spacing being calculated from the
apparent spacing for discontinuities
inclined to the face. Spacing categories
range from extremely wide (>2m) to
very narrow (<6 mm). Measurement of
discontinuity spacing of each set of
discontinuities will define the size and
shape of blocks and give an indication of
stability modes such as toppling failure.

The bias in spacing can be corrected as
follows (Terzaghi, 1965)

The number of discontinuities in a set can
be adjusted to account for the relative
orientation between the face and the strike
of the discontinuity as follows:

If there are N’ joints with dipψintersecting
a scan line of length L1, then the value of s
is given by

Persistence is the measure of the
continuous length or area of the
discontinuity; persistence categories range
from very high (>20 m) to very low (<1
m). This parameter defines the size of
blocks and the length of potential sliding
surfaces, so the mapping should
concentrate on measuring the persistence
of the set of discontinuities that will have
the greatest influence on stability

The approximate average length(l) of a set
of discontinuities is calculated from
equations (3.6) to (3.8) that are
independent of the assumed form of the
statistical distribution of the lengths.

The roughness of a discontinuity surface is
often an important component of the shear
strength, especially where the discontinuity
is undisplaced and interlocked. Roughness
becomes less important where the
discontinuity is infilled, or displaced and
interlock is lost. Roughness should be
measured in the field on exposed surfaces
with lengths of at least 2 m, if possible, in
the anticipated direction of sliding, and can
be described in terms of a combination of
both the large- and small-scale features
During the preliminary stages of an
investigation it is usually satisfactory to
make a visual assessment of the roughness
as defined by the Joint Roughness
Coefficient (JRC) (Barton, 1973). JRC varies
from zero for smooth, planar and
particularly slickensided surfaces to as
much as 20 for rough, undulating surfaces

The strength of the rock forming the
walls of discontinuities will influence the
shear strength of rough surfaces. Where
high stresses, compared to the wall
strength, are generated at local contact
points during shearing, the asperities
will be sheared off resulting in a
reduction of the roughness component
of the friction angle

Wall strength
Wall strength
Reduction of rock strength due to
weathering will reduce the shear strength
of discontinuities as described in (G).
Weathering will also reduce the shear
strength of the rock mass due to the
diminished strength of the intact rock.
Weathering categories range from fresh
rock to residual soil. Weathering of rock
takes the form of both disintegration and

Aperture is the perpendicular distance
separating the adjacent rock walls of an
open discontinuity, in which the intervening
space is air or water filled; categories of
aperture range from cavernous (>1 m), to
very tight (<0.1 mm). Aperture is thereby
distinguished from the “width” of a filled

Infilling is the term for material separating
the adjacent walls of discontinuities, such
as calcite or fault gouge; the perpendicular
distance between the adjacent rock walls is
termed the width of the filled discontinuity.
A complete description of filling material is
required to predict the behavior of the

The location of seepage from discontinuities
provides information on aperture because
ground water flow is confined almost
entirely in the discontinuities (secondary
permeability); seepage categories range
from very tight and dry to continuous flow
that can scour infillings. These observations
will also indicate the position of the water
table, or water tables in the case of rock
masses containing alternating layers of low
and high conductivity rock such as shale
and sandstone respectively.

The number of sets of discontinuities
that intersect one another will influence
the extent to which the rock mass can
deform without failure of the intact rock.
As the number of discontinuity sets
increases and the block size diminishes,
the greater the opportunity for blocks to
rotate, translate and crush under applied

Number of sets
The block size and shape are determined
by the discontinuity spacing and
persistence, and the number of sets.
Block shapes include blocky, tabular,
shattered and columnar, while block size
ranges from very large (>8m3) to very
small (<0.0002m3)

Block size/shape
On many projects, surface mapping is
supplemented by diamond drilling to obtain
core samples of the subsurface rock. The
extent of the drilling will depend on such
factors as the soil cover, the availability of
rock outcrops and the confidence with
which surface data can be extrapolated
over the full depth of the cut.
The type of information that can be
obtained by diamond drilling may be
somewhat different from surface mapping

Diamond drilling
Recording the properties of the recovered drill
core involves making a detailed and complete
log of the rock. The log should be prepared
using the same properties and descriptions of
the rock mass so that there is consistency
between the surface and sub-surface data.
This data will include the rock description, the
properties of the discontinuities and their
orientation with respect to the core axis.
Measurements can also be made of the Rock
Quality Designation (RQD), fracture index and
core recovery, which are indicative of the rock
mass quality, as described

Core logging
RQD(rock quality index) is an index related
to the degree of fracturing of the core.

A low RQD value would be indicative of a

closely fractured rock, while an RQD of
100% means that all pieces of core are
longer than 100 mm

Fracture index is a count of the number of
natural fractures in the core measured over
a fixed length of say 0.5 m. This parameter
is related to the RQD value but is
standardized to a fixed length so is not
influenced by the length of the core runs

Fracture index
Core recoveryis a measure of how much
rock has been lost during drilling. Core loss
may result from weak zones being washed
out by the drilling water, or grinding of the
core during drilling, or the presence of an
open cavity.

Core recovery